There is a definite Santa Barbara Region connection to this year’s golden jubilee priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.For one thing, the vast majority of the 2012 jubilarians received their theologate formation at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo --- among them, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles; Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican (and former auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles); and Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, a former rector of St. John’s.

And one golden jubilarian is still a pastor in the region: Msgr. John Fitzgerald, of Queen of Angels Church, Lompoc, ordained in Ireland. He and many from the ordination class of 1962 --- diocesan and religious --- were present at the April 2 Chrism Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. This article highlights two of those priests. 

‘A crowning point’

Jesuit Father Cornelius Buckley has spent much of his adult life in academia, so it is no surprise to find him active at Santa Paula’s Thomas Aquinas College, where he is the head chaplain and assistant dean for religious affairs. It is a ministry that more than agrees with him.

“I really enjoy working with students!” he enthused as he prepared for the Chrism Mass, vesting in the Cathedral Conference Center. “Helping to provide spiritual direction to students, I think, is a crowning point of my priesthood.”

Until 2004, when he joined Thomas Aquinas College, Father Buckley had spent much of his academic career in Jesuit institutions --- not surprising, given that this California native graduated from San Jose’s Bellarmine High School, operated by the Society of Jesus, and later (after a stint in the U.S. Navy) earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1950 from the University of Santa Clara.

That was the year he joined the Jesuits, eventually earning two master’s degrees in history and philosophy from Gonzaga University. He was ordained July 31, 1962 in France, where he completed a Ph.D. in history from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, in 1967.

Back in the U.S., he taught at Santa Clara, Gonzaga and the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco. He also served as the president of San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School and later as acting dean of USF. 

From 1994-2000 he was director of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and has been a trustee on the boards of USF and St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. While there, supervisors of the city of San Francisco passed a resolution dedicating a special day to Father Buckley in recognition for his services to the city.

His publications include the book “When Jesuits Were Giants,” “Your Word, O Lord … Meditations for College Students and Anyone Else,” and a translation of Simon Decloux’s “The Ignatian Way.”

After three years as chaplain to the Carmelite Sisters’ Santa Teresita Hospital in Duarte (2001-04), Father Buckley was named head chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College. 

And while the academic environment is no stranger for the historian, what has been new throughout the last eight years of his ministry, he said, is presiding at sacramental celebrations, including weddings and baptisms, many involving graduates of the college. 

“In my 50 years of priesthood,” he remarked, “I have never worked in a parish setting. So this is a great blessing for me to be involved in these celebrations.”

In March, he celebrated his golden jubilee in San Francisco. That was also when, to honor his life of service, his family and friends established a  HYPERLINK "" scholarship fund in his name at Thomas Aquinas College for financially-challenged students.

Indeed, serving in the college setting continues to make Father Buckley feel much younger than his 86 years would suggest. “I am looking forward,” he smiled, “to the next 50 years!”

‘We learned on the run’

While waiting at one of the Cathedral Conference Center’s vesting rooms, a ski trip to the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to enjoy one of his favorite activities to celebrate his 76th birthday (April 4) on the horizon, Msgr. Peter Nugent paused to reflect on his 50 years of priesthood, and how he prepared for it.

Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, “there was not much parish training for pastors at the seminary,” he said with a smile, while fellow jubilarians nod their heads knowingly. “We learned on the run, and there was a lot of adjustment. Today, there’s more exposure to the parish setting; it’s an organized experience.”

Msgr. Nugent retired last year after 10 years as pastor of St. John Eudes Church in Chatsworth, and is now its pastor emeritus. But the native of Moncton, New Brunswick (Canada), has strong ties to the Santa Barbara Region, having taught music and liturgy at St. John’s Seminary for 14 years (he earned a master’s degree in music from USC), and served 11 years as pastor of Santa Clara Church in Oxnard, the oldest non-California Mission parish in Ventura County.

Born to a family “with a strong Irish background and strong Catholic roots,” Peter Nugent is the third oldest of seven siblings (one sister is a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary). It was in Moncton where he said he was inspired to join the priesthood by the pastor of his family’s parish church.

In 1949 the Nugent family moved to East L.A. and soon became members of St. Alphonsus Church. Peter attended Los Angeles College, then the preparatory school for the archdiocesan seminary, and earned his B.A. and completed his theology studies at St. John's Seminary. Ordained at 26, he initially served as assistant pastor and later as pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Baldwin Park (nine years), where he was best known as a co-founder of the influential East Valleys Organization, a community action group formed to help the poor and disenfranchised.

While at St. John’s, he celebrated weekend Masses at Santa Clara which made it a perfect fit when he was named pastor in 1990. But his gifts and experience have been welcomed at each stop. At St. John Eudes, parish ministries continued to grow and flourish under his leadership, with the expansion of religious and lay staff to meet new needs, plus technological improvements in the parish and school to provide additional resources for parishioners. 

With his schedule now more open, Msgr. Nugent enjoys traveling, having recently visited Africa, and then visiting relatives in Canada during Easter. And he treasures his life in the priesthood: “It’s been a life rich with blessings and opportunities to serve and help people.”

Also celebrating

In addition to Cardinals Mahony and Levada and Archbishop Niederauer, this year’s golden jubilarian priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles also include the following who attended St. John’s Seminary:

---Msgr. Robert Gipson, retired pastor of St. Raymond, Downey, and St. James the Less, La Crescenta.

---Msgr. Robert Howard, retired pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Tujunga; Transfiguration, L.A.; and St. Finbar, Burbank.

---Father Robert Luck, pastor emeritus of St. Catherine of Alexandria Church, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island.

---Father John Murray, retired pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Church, Canoga Park, now living at St. Francis Xavier Church, Burbank.

Two more (besides Msgr. Fitzgerald) were ordained in Ireland for the archdiocese: Msgr. Padraic Loftus, pastor emeritus at St. Mel Church, Woodland Hills, and Msgr. Michael Slattery, pastor emeritus at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church, Santa Clarita.

Ed. Note: A future article will feature this year’s golden jubilarians, including those from various religious communities.

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